Defenses bare, ACC tries to restock

Little-used players have big shoes to fill after mass exodus to NFL

August 29, 2006|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

North Carolina State defensive end Ray Brooks was academically ineligible last season, and teammate Martrel Brown was a reserve defensive tackle who never started a game.

The expectations for both are a little higher this year.

When the Wolfpack opens its season Saturday against Appalachian State, Brooks and Brown are the projected starters to replace two of the best ends in school history in Mario Williams and Manny Lawson on a defensive line that coach Chuck Amato described as as solid as "scrambled eggs."

Williams was the first overall selection in the NFL draft. He started a trend, as eight other Atlantic Coast Conference defenders followed in the first round, including Lawson, who was picked 22nd.

While most coaches and players throughout the league agree that the conference recruits well enough to reload, the question remains whether this record-setting mass exodus of defense to the NFL will open things offensively this season - especially with eight experienced quarterbacks returning.

"That's going to be interesting, it really is," Amato said. "A lot of us have lost a lot of the firepower we had. Youth and ambition are going to have to take over."

It was a record-setting year for the ACC, as an NCAA-high 12 players were selected in the first round of the NFL draft and 29 defenders were chosen overall. Six of the conference's defensive linemen were drafted in the first round - including three from N.C. State.

Florida State lost seven starters on defense, including four first-round draft picks in junior linebacker Ernie Sims, defensive linemen Kamerion Wimbley and Brodrick Bunkley and corner Antonio Cromartie.

Seminoles defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said he gives his second-string players enough snaps and repetitions that - while they don't start - they're prepared to. "We play a lot of people on defense," Andrews said. "We try to coach next year's team this year so we won't always be stuck. We were able to replace them because we play so many kids."

One of them being the younger brother of fifth-round draft pick A.J. Nicholson, the team's leading tackler a year ago. Sophomore Derek Nicholson's primary role was on special teams last year, but he should be among the top four at middle or weak-side linebacker this year. There is also veteran talent in senior linebacker Buster Davis. Davis is entering his third year as a starter and was second on the team with 91 total tackles.

Like Florida State, Virginia Tech appears ready to reload. Coach Frank Beamer said he has been recruiting for this very moment. The Hokies led the nation in total defense last year, allowing just 247.6 yards per game. Five starters from that unit were drafted in April - including All-America cornerback Jimmy Williams and defensive end Darryl Tapp.

Beamer is confident, though, in linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall. Hall led the team in tackles as a sophomore, with 112. He also had three sacks and two interceptions. Adibi added 69 tackles and also had three sacks and two interceptions.

"They're two inside linebackers, and both of them have a special talent," he said. "Adibi is having a great preseason camp. Vince led us in tackles last year. The thing both of them have got is a sense for the football. The great linebackers are like that. They know when to go, when to hold. These two guys have that."

Maryland is hoping someone among its plethora of linebackers this season can help replace the ACC's leading tackler last season in D'Qwell Jackson. Coach Ralph Friedgen said he is confident Wesley Jefferson can do the job.

"He's going to do his job, he's going to do it pretty well," Friedgen said. "He's probably going to fly under the radar screen.

"I don't know if he'll make the exceptional plays D'Qwell did, but I think he'll play the position well."

Beamer said coaches throughout the league are going to have to get used to replacing top talent in bundles.

"I think you're probably going to see a lot of mass exodus to the NFL from this league," he said. "I think it's a very strong league. Everybody's recruiting gets better, and as you recruit better, the more you have at the next level. I think it's going to be more of a standard procedure rather than an unusual occurrence."

Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach spent much of last season learning the names and tendencies of the players who are gone - juniors included. While he smiled at the thought, Hollenbach said he doesn't expect that to mean this year will be any easier.

"ACC defenses were stacked last year, and I'm sure they'll be able to reload pretty quick," he said. "As we start playing games, the [new] names will start coming up."

College Football Preview Week

TOMORROW: Navy's triple-option offense is a variation of a football relic, but it has fueled the program's resurgence.

THURSDAY: A new offensive line is critical to Towson's Atlantic 10 success; Division I-A transfers are key to rebuilding Morgan State's defense.

FRIDAY: Anthony Triplin, a standout receiver for Johns Hopkins, makes education his priority.


3 -- Defensive linemen from North Carolina State who were chosen in the first round of the NFL draft

39 -- Starters returning from the league's top seven defenses

9 -- ACC defenders selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

137 -- Tackles made by Maryland's D'qwell Jackson to lead the ACC last year.

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